Wednesday November 08, 2017

Life after ISIS: 'It is very difficult for these women and children to be accepted'

Women and girls captured by ISIS fighters try to find a way back into their communities.

Women and girls captured by ISIS fighters try to find a way back into their communities. (War Child Canada)

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​In Iraq, an uncertain future faces the women who escape ISIS

"We hear horrible stories … basically [ISIS fighters are] treating them like objects, sexual slavery, trafficking, literally selling them, and they don't know who these men are, what are they, they get impregnated, they gave birth to children," Galawezh Bayiz tells The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti.

Bayiz has faced conflict most of her life, growing up in Kirkuk, Iraq, in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan.

She now works as War Child Canada's country director for Iraq, a non-governmental organization that helps women and children in war-torn countries — like those who have escaped ISIS.

Women who escaped ISIS

Since 2014, thousands of women — many of them from the Yazidi ethnic minority in Iraq — have been abducted from their homes by ISIS fighters (War Child Canada)

Since 2014, thousands of women — many of them from the Yazidi ethnic minority in Iraq — have been abducted from their homes by ISIS fighters.

Since then many have escaped, but Bayiz says as many as 3,000 women are still held captive by ISIS, most of them being used as sex slaves.

'It is very difficult for these women and children to be accepted.'

Families and authorities often raise money to pay a ransom to ISIS in order to secure the release of the abducted women. 

That ransom price varies, says Bayiz but suggests it's definitely over 100,000 dinar (about $110 CAD each) — a lot for many families.

Those who escape suffer from psychological trauma. When they come home, often accompanied by their children born from rape, they can face social ostracization.

"It is very difficult for these women and children to be accepted. The tribal leader of the Yazidis denied them, just disowned them. They said they're not part of the community anymore. Because of the shame to society as if it was the fault of the girls. But it's obviously not," Bayiz tells Tremonti.

Kurdistan Kids

'It is very difficult for these women and children to be accepted,' says War Child Canada's Galawezh Bayiz. (War Child Canada)

Bayiz says the children of these kids are complicated cases because their fathers are ISIS fighters who raped their mothers, and the kids have no legal status and no citizenship.

'They stayed because they said this is my home. I die where I die.'

War Child also helps women who weren't captured by ISIS but initially stayed in ISIS-controlled areas, only to flee later to camps for internally displaced persons.

Bayiz says these women are often unfairly treated with suspicion by other people in the camp and Iraqi officials.

"Not all the women who stayed behind in ISIL [ISIS] controlled territory are ISIL supporters. They stayed because they said this is my home. I die where I die."

War Child helps these women find employment or gives them a microfinance loan so they can develop a business.

But a return to their life before ISIS is elusive for many.

For a lot of people there is no home to go home to. Many of the women Bayiz works with are from Mosul, previously an ISIS stronghold.

But much of Mosul is in rubble — people's homes, possessions, lives destroyed.

Kurdistan Kids

A return to their life before ISIS is elusive for many, says Galawezh Bayiz. (War Child Canada)

Bayiz says she understands what it's like to live through violence and fear, recalling an afternoon from her childhood.

"One day they gathered us all up. 'Okay, come on, let's march toward the town centre'. We don't know why. But hundreds of kids go toward the town centre and after a while we realize that there is a kid being put on the cross and then shot dead and he was only 14."

'We don't want to create more violence with violence.'

Because of her own childhood, she says she doesn't want to see the victims of f ISIS suffer.

"We don't want to create more violence with violence. Humans can change. It's not the children's fault that they're born that way. It's not the woman's fault she was raped. All that you can do is basically support them mentally, socially and economically to actually get on with their lives and become peacemakers."

Despite everything she has seen and experienced, Bayiz says she still has some hope for the future of Iraq.

"If you're alive, you say, thank God, I'm alive and then hope and resilience are two strong elements that the people of this country have."

Listen to the full conversation above.

This segment was produced by The Current's Willow Smith.